One of the more awful things about job hunting is the lack of control we feel in the process. We send out application packets, then we wait, then maybe we interview, and we wait again, our references are contacted, and then we wait some more.
In a tight market, which will continue to be the state of the library job market for the foreseeable future, our choices seem even more limited. We seem to be competing against an endless sea of librarians for a few choice positions. In this atmosphere, people start saying things like, “in a tight market, you need to do this” or “you can’t afford to do that.”
Don’t ever let someone tell you what you “must” do to find a job.
Because whatever that person is saying simply isn’t true. Or rather, it will never always be true. There are enough different kinds of jobs, and different kinds of people hiring, that one person’s “must” is another’s “never should you ever.”
Even if there are fewer positions, there is still diversity in what libraries are looking for. What one hiring manager wants may be diametrically opposed to what another wants. And there are ways to create your own opportunities and positions, especially if you’re interested in LIS work outside of libraries.
Using someone else’s formula to grasp desperately at every possibility you see, no matter how ill-fitting, is not necessary. And it can’t be particularly nice for you either.
Applying to every job, regardless of how well it fits you, isn’t worth your time.
Stifling bits of yourself in order to squeeze into a position that doesn’t fit isn’t a positive job search strategy.
Being comfortable with yourself will go much further than wearing a beautiful suit that turns you into a squirmy robot. Finding a position that you could be passionate about, and describing clearly and positively to the committee what you would contribute there, will go much further than sending out 50 generic cover letters.
Getting hired is not a numbers game. It’s not a series of hoops you must jump through. It’s not a column of boxes to check off. There’s no formula. There’s no secret manual.
Don’t ever let someone tell you what you “must” do to find a job. Getting hired is your choice, as much as it’s anyone else’s. Job hunting is soul-suckingly difficult enough on its own, so don’t ever let someone take away the autonomy you have within the process.
I’ve been trying to write this post for a little while now. After nearly two years of collecting perspectives of both people who hire librarians, and librarians who want to be hired, I’m convinced that the above is true. That part was no problem.
It’s this next part that I don’t know how to talk about.
The truth of the matter is, even though there is diversity in our profession, and there are a range of acceptable ways to be “professional,” (get ready for the shocker) discrimination exists. And because it’s now, and not the 50s, it exists within ourselves, in ways that are sometimes hard to recognize.
I had a discussion with Cecily Walker on Twitter about three questions on the Hiring Librarians “What Should Candidates Wear” survey, questions that asked about bare arms, make-up and skirts. Her Tweet that resonated most for me was:
@HiringLib Questions about pantyhose, makeup, or skirts reinforce the notion that only one kind of gender performance is allowed for women
— Cecily Walker (@skeskali) December 22, 2013
I asked those questions expecting that some hiring managers would say yes, and some would say no, and then we could all go away feeling better about our choice to wear or not wear make-up. I didn’t even think about the fact that the question itself does assume that female librarians are at least considering make-up and/or a skirt.
But of course there are those for whom make-up and a skirt would be totally wrong, instead of merely uncomfortable.
Getting hired is your choice though, right?
It’s easy for me to say that because I am the very model of a modern librarian. But what if you’re not a white, cis-, straight female?
Cecily Walker also wrote, in On Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Librarian Image:
Regardless of what I wear or how I act around some members of the community I serve, my race will always place me outside of the norm. When we place the burden of of being the exception on those who fall outside of the norm, we are furthering an agenda that supports the idea that whiteness is the highest standard, indeed, the only standard that should be used to measure suitability.
We can have conversations about purple hair and tattoos and whether they don’t represent a professional image, but we shouldn’t have them without drawing parallels between these superficial differences and the (in some cases) immutable differences that we are born with, or that are central to our identity.
My takeaway from nearly two years of writing this blog has been that there are all kinds of libraries out there, and that job hunters who are comfortable with who they are and “true” to themselves are much more likely to find work. This is my takeaway as a white, cis-gender woman. If you are going to be “true” to yourself within the same demographic parameters, this is the only job hunting advice you will ever need.
I’m not sure that this is always the case for non-white, non-cis, non-women librarians. I want it to be equally true. I want non-white, non-cis, non-women librarians to be able to always find that when they are comfortable with who they are and “true” to themselves that they are more likely to find work. But when I read through the Hiring Librarians surveys, I can’t stop seeing how they are peppered with phrases like “if you live in a vanilla world, neapolitan won’t fit.”
That’s a fucked up attitude.
It’s fucked up because not only does that apply to more superficial differences, like purple hair and tattoos, it applies to gender expression, and race, and sexuality, and all that other stuff that is intrinsic to our beings.
I guess it’s not that hard to write that bit. It’s just, I don’t know how to fix it. That’s the bit I can’t write. Cause I don’t know. Duh.